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July 20, 2011

SALISBURY TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT: THE CHOICE

by Randy Ziegenfuss
Part One in a Series From Robert R. Gross, III, Superintendent of Schools

It is difficult to read an article or to be part of a conversation regarding public schools these days without the topic of choice entering into the discussion. During their spring session, our General Assembly debated the merit of a school voucher system that essentially was grounded in the theory of giving parents the choice to select a school to have their children attend. They will again argue the facts regarding vouchers this fall session when they reconvene. Parents may currently opt to send their children of compulsory education age to charter schools, cyber-charter schools, or private institutions rather than to public schools.  A rather contentious debate exists in education circles and in Harrisburg as to who governs and oversees the quality of education the private and charter institutions provide. The benchmarks and standards of quality instruction and programming for private and charter schools are nowhere near the rigorous standards placed on the public school systems across the Commonwealth.  The debate and arguments will surely be worth watching and participating in this upcoming congressional season.

The Salisbury Township School Board and the District Administration will always maintain a high degree of vigilance and involvement with our state government officials regarding educational issues. That said, our focus has been and will always be steadfastly focused on providing the highest quality education our residents have come to expect and demand for our children even beyond the mandates issued by our government.

Salisbury Township School District recognizes that various changes in the way our populous is educated is undergoing considerable study and debate. It appears the state is taking a direction to reorganize the manner in which our children are educated by emphasizing choice and vouchers, as well as studying the potential impacts of school district consolidation. While the potential changes to the structures, options, and organization for our school systems continue to be examined and appear underway, a monumental change has been underway with our youngest citizens – our children.  These “digital natives” have been using technology to investigate questions, communicate with friends and people across the globe, search for answers, produce projects and for a myriad of other wholesome purposes. According to The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce published back in 2007, educational demands are increasing and the very nature of learning is changing. Students must do more than learn new facts or cover more chapters; they must learn to integrate and apply their knowledge in more complex ways to solve more difficult problems – problems never encountered prior to the technology era in which we all exist.

Our students, especially at the secondary level, are largely interested in an education that addresses the real world in which they live – wasn’t this true when you and I attended school?  Digital technology, when USED PROPERLY for scholarly purposes, will make our children’s learning real, engaging, and USEFUL FOR THEIR FUTURE. Our students want to invent, innovate, and create using the tools of THEIR time. They want to work with peers and make decisions while sharing control. They want to connect with peers to express and share their opinions in class, and around the world. They want an education that is not only relevant, but also real.

Our children know that when they learn something after school through a chat or investigation on the Internet, they can apply it to something real. This new learning could be how to repair a broken cold air intake filter on a car, or how to locate the cheapest gasoline for their vehicle within a five mile radius, or even participate in a word scrabble game with a person in another state. When our children learn to download, text, and tweet they become engaged in social events that can affect the music industry, politics, and even our economy. These digital capabilities answer the questions asked in education for decades, “why should I learn this?” Our standard answer has always been, “because someday you’ll need it.”  This reply is no longer a relevant response, when technology makes that distant someday, right now.

The Salisbury Township Board of School Directors unanimously approved a plan to change the way our children learn and as such, to make learning real. Teaching and Learning 2014 (TL2014) will do just that through the increased use of digital technology for all of our students while saving the district money. It is a bold step, nonetheless a step that addresses how our children learn best and increases the tools for them to do just that. I will periodically update our community on our TL2014 initiative and the details within this bold plan.

Given all of the changes occurring in education, and the new realities of students’ out-of-school environment, we will put into the hands of our teachers and students the necessary tools for their long-term future – as well as for tomorrow – while at the same time preserving the important legacy of the past best practices.

The choice is clear – embrace change and make it work for you by shaping the future you want to realize. Or be a victim of change, and simply react to what is happening around you, and struggle to survive because of it.

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